Super-size misery in song: ‘Les Misérables’
Updated: January 28, 2013 6:28AM
Wallowing in tragic emotion much like the hero eventually wallows through a Parisian sewer, the international mega-hit musical finally makes it to the big screen in an up-close and uncomfortably personal manner.
Not just front-row close but on-stage and often eyeball-to-eyeball close, with the tuneful suffering dialed up to 11 in far too many extreme close-ups. Even if you worship “Les Miz” you’re likely to feel that this in-your-face cinematic adaptation is way too much of a good thing.
That’s the bad news, courtesy of director Tom Hooper, who goes to great lengths to make “Les Misérables” not just realistic, but overwhelmingly so. The good news is that most of the A-list cast does a creditable job, particularly Hugh Jackman as the ex-convict-turned-saint Jean Valjean. The music still soars and the story, distilled from Victor Hugo’s classic novel, still has heart-rending oomph in abundance.
The story is so familiar it almost seems unnecessary to retell it, but here’s a quick recap. Twenty-six years after the French Revolution, Valjean is released from 20 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread.
He can’t get work, though. He has to present his parole papers wherever he goes, forcing him to resort to crime. After being saved and claimed for God by a kindly priest, Valjean tears up his parole papers and reinvents himself as a virtuous business man until his old nemesis, police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe, whose strained vocals fall flat), tracks him down.
Valjean comes to the aid of Fantine, one of his factory workers, unfairly fired by his manager and forced into prostitution (Anne Hathaway in a potential Oscar-winning role). He cares for her until her death, then rescues her daughter Cosette from an inn run by the crooked Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, providing welcome comic relief). Still in hiding, Valjean raises Cosette as his daughter until she falls in love with the young Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who is involved in the
ill-fated revolutionary uprising of
1832 — leading to heartbreak and ruination all around.
Though it’s almost enough to make you hysterical at the thought of even one more little dollop of injustice, it’s still a whopping tale and it’s presented in whopping style by Hooper. To his credit, he does do a nice job of opening up some of the stage show’s big moments. He takes the stage spectacle and makes it truly spectacular, pumping it up to larger-than-life proportions.